Riku’s best friend is his dad, Jun.
“Before we learned Riku had cancer, he was really active,” Jun said. “He liked to run and kick the ball. We played soccer and tennis together. He’s my best friend, too. We want the best for him.”
Riku's mom, Noriko, and Jun moved from Japan to California in 2017. Riku was 3 years old and only spoke Japanese.
“After we moved, we would go to the playground, and he would talk to the other little kids in Japanese,” Noriko said. “He began to realize something had changed because the kids did not understand him. He started preschool, and then he started to speak a little bit of English with his class.”
In 2018, Riku’s life changed again when his family learned he had a type of brain cancer called medulloblastoma. Riku had begun to experience headaches, would throw up for no apparent reason and was more fatigued than usual.
When an MRI revealed a mass on his brain, he underwent surgery to remove it. A biopsy confirmed it was cancer.
“I was numb,” said Noriko. “I couldn’t move, I was in shock. Cancer? It was devastating.”
Riku’s doctors referred Noriko and Jun to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for his continuing care. Riku’s treatment will include six weeks of proton therapy and four rounds of chemotherapy.
St. Jude is home to the world’s first proton beam therapy center dedicated solely for children, something that was important to Riku’s parents.
“We wanted Riku to receive proton therapy rather than regular radiation therapy,” Noriko said. “We knew the proton beam would hit just the tumor, while the standard beam could hit outside of the tumor area.”
Riku’s parents were surprised to learn they would never receive a bill from St. Jude.
“We had never heard of a hospital not charging someone,” Noriko said. “We were so shocked at the beginning to realize this. It’s not just a relief financially, it’s mental, as well. It’s one less thing to worry about.”
Jun agrees. “Because we don’t have to worry about bills or food or a place to live, we can focus on our son, on the thing that matters,” he said. “We know we can rely on St. Jude and the staff one hundred percent.”
Riku, who keeps busy coloring and drawing, is responding well to treatment. “Even though Riku is very small, he’s very strong,” said Jun. “We remind him all the time: You are strong, you are very brave, you can overcome this.”
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